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The Riddle of the Sands

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 12 June 2008

Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the prescient thriller ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ about the decline Anglo-German relations before the First World War.

In 1903 an Englishman called Charles Caruthers went sailing in the North Sea and stumbled upon a German military plot. The cunning plan was to invade the British Isles from the Frisian Islands using special barges. The plucky Caruthers foiled the plot and returned to his sailing holiday.

This is not history but fiction, an immensely popular book called ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers. It was a prescient vision of two nations soon to fight the First World War but it went against the spirit of the previous century. Brits and Germans had fought together at Waterloo and had influenced profoundly each other’s thought and art. They even shared a royal family. Yet somehow victory at Waterloo and the shared glories of Romanticism became the mutual tragedy of the Somme.

With Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London and Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European history at The University of Cambridge.

  • Further Reading

    S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817)

    Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1834)

    George Eliot, A Word for the Germans (1865)

    Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (1869) and Friendship's Garland (1870)

    Rosemary Ashton, The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought 1800-1860 (1980, reprinted 1994)

    Stefan Collini, English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture (1999)

    Gisela Argyle, Germany as Model and Monster: Allusions in English Fiction 1830s-1930s (2002)

    Richard Milton, Best of Enemies, Britain and Germany: 100 Years of Truth and Lies (Icon Books, 2007)

    Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel (Penguin Classics; New Ed edition, 1995)

    Panikos Panayi, German Immigrants in Britain during the 19th Century 1815-1914 (Berg Publishers, 1995)

    I. F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War 1763-1914 (Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition, 1993)

    S. S. Prawer, Breeches and Metaphysics (Legenda, Feb 1998)

    John Ramsden, "Don't Mention the War!" The British and the Germans since 1890 (Little Brown, 2006)

    Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914 (Humanities P.,U.S.; New e. edition, 1987)

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